We’ve made gift-giving and celebration an obligatory pressure in an over-consumptive, materialistic, and wasteful society, says Leigh Naturkach. So she’s figured out a way to support her loved ones while still remaining true to her own values.
I recently ran away from an acquaintance’s baby shower. Well, I purposely left the building a few minutes before it started. I’m still not sorry.
It felt extremely inauthentic to attend this event, so I opted out. It always feels great to have our words be congruent with our actions. We so often do things out of social niceties. But, as I get older, this is becoming not only less important, but tiresome. We already do so many things based on “should.”
Around the same time, I read an article about a “Baby Sprinkle,” a mini-shower for after-the-first-baby babies. It was this that prompted me to consider a new approach to these life milestones as I enter the second half of life.
I think back to a shower I attended years ago. I sat on a fold-out chair on a Sunday afternoon, surrounded by balloons, cupcakes, salmon sandwiches on white bread, and some very nice, polite women who I didn’t really know, talking about the evils of carbs and sugar. Pen and paper in hand, I had to guess what green substance was sitting in the middle of one of several baby diapers. Whoever had the most correct answers won a prize: stationery or body lotion or tea or something nice but something none of us really needed. Then later, I watched (in horror I might add) as everyone audibly sighed with pleasure when my lovely friend unwrapped a baby bum wipe warmer.
I wanted to support my friend, and I appreciated the people who went to the trouble of doing this. However, it seemed unnecessary and silly. Mostly, I felt like a hypocrite.
Something about showers of the gift kind has never sat well with me. I love gift-giving and supporting friends in important life milestones: new jobs, weddings, first condo, promotions, charitable causes, changing cities, marathons, babies. I appreciate the generous gestures of others who also want to support loved ones.
However, we’ve made gift-giving and celebration an obligatory pressure in an over-consumptive, materialistic, and wasteful society. The bar for traditional celebrations is raised higher and higher, particularly from different cultural and socioeconomic perspectives, coming with expectations that are, to me, akin to a gold-edged, calligraphied, foil-stamped slap in the face. Often, whether or not the hosts, families, bride, or mom-to-be are aware, these celebrations can cause resentment, tensions, debt, sometimes relationship-ending arguments that negate the entire purpose.
In addition to showers (sometimes multiple), there are bachelorette parties, engagement parties, housewarming parties, and more. By the time an actual event happens, the wedding day or the birth, many of the attendees are often celebrated or tapped out.
What I find incredibly irksome is if it is a shower for a heterosexual couple, men never have to attend, but their female family members do. We live in a time when we want men to be equal parents and partners, but we leave them out of opportunities where they might gain understanding of everything they’ll need to know as parents or partners. We princess-erize the bride, mom, or baby. We reinforce gender stereotypes down to ensuring the party reflects the gender of the baby, or the design theme of the baby’s room. How did we get so privileged?
Showers—for weddings, babies, or otherwise—came from a time when people were just starting out and couldn’t afford to stock up their homes.
Times have changed and we need to change with it. People are having babies and getting married later in life, often after having been around the world, living on their own or with partners for years, and have the luxury of a $3,000 bed. Women are working. Men are staying home. We are reforming outdated ideas of gender roles. Frantic consumerism is not only becoming increasingly uncool, but unsustainable.
The reality is, all the showers I’ve attended have been for people who need these gift-giving orgies the least. So, reflecting on this and my ample shower-attendee experience, I feel qualified to set out a new set of boundaries for myself to be supportive to my loved ones, and yet remain true to my values.
Things I will do:
1. Give one gift per life milestone
2. Not attend events where I’m expected to give gifts outside my comfort zone
3. Not attend events where both partners aren’t involved (if there are two)
4. Give gifts I feel good about
5. Encourage gifting that gives back (one friend held a “shelter shower” for her wedding, and the gifts went to a women’s shelter where basic necessities were needed most. I love this.)
I realize this may be uncomfortable. I will need to be up front about my boundaries. But I’d rather be honest than hypocritical (and broke). I won’t have to, quite literally, run away from things that do not align with my values. And if a baby bum wipe warmer is more important to someone than I am, then I’m probably better off without them anyway.
Leigh Naturkach is a feminist, retired bowling champion, working and living in Toronto, Ontario.